Take Care

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I always considered myself a perfectionist, until I actually met perfectionists. The amount of care, dedication, and effort that went into the smallest of details,  no matter the project, truly blew me away.

I’ve never been one for detail work. I don’t like “futzing” with things. I’m not a tinkerer. I cannot stand repeating a small task over and over and over again.

However, in the kitchen, most of that frustration and desire to hurry things along goes away. I’m happy to putter, to move the knife slower to get exactly the right slice. But I still find myself saying, “That’s good enough.” So when I watch shows like “Chef’s Table”, or “The Mind of a Chef”, I am still amazed and completely inspired by the care these artists take with food. Not just in the preparation, but in the presentation, the layering of details, the complexity that is almost overlooked by the supposed simplicity.

I’ve been watching the fourth season of “The Mind of a Chef”, which featured chef Gabrielle Hamilton. She is known for her restaurant Prune in New York, as well as her memoir, Blood, Bones, and Butter. I found myself immediately smitten with her style of cooking in watching her episodes, but it wasn’t until the last one where she said something that struck me like nothing else had thus far. She was teaching one of her cooks how to make a dish that looked simple, but required a significant amount of time, repetition, and detail. As they folded and crimped over and over and over again, Gabrielle said, “There is no reason to be this precise, and there’s no reason to not be.”

What a concept. I really feel smacked by that statement. It applies to so much in life, not just food. There is no reason to care for the well-being of people I don’t know, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to sit and meditate every day, but there’s no reason not to. There’s no reason to make my backyard flower garden look beautiful and pristine, but there’s no reason not to.

What would happen if I took that much care in everything I did? It seems to me that care (as opposed to rigid, self-flagellating perfectionism) is at the root of many beautiful things. When someone takes care–of themselves, of their food, of their homes, of their relationships–others take notice. It draws appreciation, it incites love.

For many people, I think particularly in our American culture, time is a precious commodity, and we feel very selective about where we dole out those extra minutes. But what better way can we show our love, than through the amount of care and time we give to things, and to each other?

I know I’m going to be reflecting on this for a long time…

Newfound Pleasure

There are things you have always loved, there are things you will never enjoy, and then there are things that you slowly warm up to. I have always loved reading, I will probably never enjoy calling a customer service hotline, but I can honestly say, that I am truly beginning to relish mornings. 

For as long as I can remember, I have detested getting up in the mornings. The sound of a beeping machine, or annoyingly chipper radio DJ insisting I remove myself from the warmth of my down comforter is not something I can ever say I enjoyed. The room was cold once removed from the heat of blankets, and usually the sky was still dark. And, no matter how much sleep I got, I was never quite able to shake the feeling that I had awoken from a deep coma instead of a night’s sleep when the alarm finally sounded. Groggy, clumsy, with no trace of coffee in my body, I was not pleasant to be around. Lord help the person who attempted conversation with me. College roommates quickly learned to let me be for a good hour before anything of merit could be done (although my mother never quite seemed to learn that one, God bless her). 

Over the past year, and the last month in particular, I have come to really enjoy mornings. To be fair, it is still a work in progress, and it started off slow. It began when I was in grad school. Being the incredible procrastinator that I am, there were more than a few times where it became necessary for me to wake up before the sun in order to finish writing (dare I say, even begin writing) a paper due that day. The alarm would sound, I would crawl out of bed and pull on thick slippers and a big sweater, and pad to the kitchen to make coffee and pull the blinds, letting what little light was beginning to shine to filter in through my window. Morning light has always held a certain allure, making everything it touches more fragile and beautiful. The streets are quiet, porch lights are all off, and nothing but birdsong hits my ears. It really is a beautiful time. Once the coffee was ready, I could write, the movement of the shadows as the day progressed pushing me along in my writing project. I was always the most productive in the mornings. However, those were rare occasions. When left to my own choices and weekends, I could easily sleep ten hours a night and not waken until at least 9:30am, but more likely 10:00. 

Now that I am graduated, I have something different forcing me from my bed at 5:45 each morning—my job. I have always liked the pace of coffee shops in the morning, and  the one I work at now is no different. Walking through the empty streets, seeing the pale beginnings of the day light the sky around me as I set up chairs and pastry cases—it is these small moments, done in near silence as part of my now daily routine that are beginning to make me truly love the mornings. There is a particular crispness to the air, silence to the streets, and gentle feeling of peaceful productivity that can really grow on a person. 

These days, I can hardly sleep past 8:00am, a time I once thought to be an ungodly hour to begin a class period. There is too much to experience, and I need that quiet time in the morning, making my coffee and sitting in the gentle breeze of my half open window, to ground and prepare me for the day ahead.